This is the sixth in a series of posts covering the hidden messages that sneak into American churches’ proclamation of the Gospel. For more background, please refer to this post.
We had a single mom of young boys over to our home last Sunday. After enjoying her company and the company of her sons, she confessed that more than anything else she wishes there were a man around in her boys’ lives to give them the masculine influence they need.
This last week, I had an anonymous commenter who lamented that many people have no place to spend Christmas day because of broken families, family located distantly, or similar issues. While I was always fortunate in that regard, I know others who have not been. We should all feel their loneliness and do more than talk about it. (No one in the commenter’s church stepped forward, but unbelievers did. What message does that send?)
At a time when so many of our churches are obsessed with Focus on the Family-like “family” ministry, why are so many so lousy at being a family to the family-less?
It’s hard to escape the message. A quick sampling of church Web sites is enough to show that we’re infatuated with family. Somewhere on the homepage of your average church there’s a JPEG of a smiling family of Mom, Dad, big Bro and little Sis (plus that half child for statistical reasons—the ultrasound’s scheduled for next week.) Given the tenor of today’s church messages, there’s a fair chance you’ll see an ad for the upcoming sermon series on how to have a great sex life—with free earplugs provided for the singles, widowed, and divorced. Thousands of times in a given weekend, churches will be trumpeting the family message, all the while failing to understand what it’s doing to those whose families failed, fell prey to death, or never were.
There’s cocooning and then there’s sin. We may very well be teetering toward the latter. Jesus had this to say about family priorities:
Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
—Matthew 19:27-30 ESV
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
—Matthew 10:37 ESV
What is also not worthy is promoting the family message in our churches while failing to meet true Kingdom family needs. Loving Christ more than anyone else means that our attitudes toward family must become like His. And His look radically different:
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
—Matthew 12:46-50 ESV
We’re always thinking about the needs of our own biological families, but Jesus turned that on its head. The single mom I referred to above wants nothing more than the time of a man or two to invest in her sons—not tomorrow, not a year from now should she have a proposal from a boyfriend, but right now. (How about taking them to some ballgames or to the movies?) The unmarried man who lives in Burbank while his folks are in Bangor shouldn’t have to sit alone on Christmas. A Christian family should be making certain he spends that day with them (and have a gift for him, too.) Wouldn’t that young single woman in your church who’s from out of town love to have a home-cooked meal at the table of a Christian family willing to make her a part of theirs?
Are we making any of that happen? Or are we cocooning so brilliantly that no one from the outside can penetrate our perfect little shell? (What message does that send our kids about “outsiders”?)
All families are a gift from God, be that physically formed or spiritually created. Despite our obsession with family, our inability to incorporate the less easily incorporated folks into our physical families means that we may not be doing a good job with those spiritual families. Those on the outside looking in hear the ubiquitous family message, but it sounds to them like, “You’re not invited.”
Yeah, I know that there are churches that huddle the guys up to do oil changes and car repairs for single moms. We need more than that, though. While a mechanic may be nice, a surrogate dad for that mom’s kids is even more needed. And if single people embarrass us so much that we have to shove them into their own little groups to do whatever single people do today (nice temptation, huh?), why can’t we do a better job of incorporating them into our families and looking out for prospective mates? In my bachelor days, I knew plenty of singles who would have loved a bit of help with both.
No, the messages we send are hopelessly hypocritical when it comes to family. Too often we treat single moms and dads with an attitude that they’d be better off if they were married. That may very well be, but what are we doing to make that possible? Are we willing to watch their kids while they engage in a real dating life? If we want them to make a good selection in a mate, it may take a year or two. Ask yourself: If I don’t do it, who will? From what I’ve personally witnessed, there’s no line forming, so you may be the only one.
And who’s to say the elderly widow or widower in our churches can’t become another grandma or grandpa to our kids? God knows that my own family would be delighted to have someone filled with sixty years or more of godly living to replace my deceased parents in my own son’s life. His other set of grandparents are 220 miles away. Can any of us have too many God-fearing family members nearby? If you love the Lord and want to be a part of my family, the house is open!
No one said any of this would be easy. It asks something of us, whether we’re blessed with a nuclear family of 4.5 or we’re single, divorced, widowed—whatever. But if we’re not willing to treat like real family those that fall outside the boundaries of what our rule books say is “real family,” then we have no right to talk about the Church being the family of God because we’re not modeling it.
The early Church made a family for the widows and the orphans. Are we doing the same?